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sanctuary of life above. This was his fixed and unsatisfied desire. How few are arrived to such a height of spirituality? This desire is the fruit of faith, with respect to the reality and glory of the eternal state, and our interest in it. According as the revelation of the invisible kingdom is in our minds, such is its attractive power in our hearts. It is the effect of divine love in a degree of eminence. To vanquish the terrors of death, that are insuperable to human resolutions, and with a clear and cheerful spirit to leave the body in the grave, that we may for ever be freed from sin, and made like to Christ in purity and glory, is the effect of love stronger than death.
2. Use, is to excite us to “ follow holiness ;" to make it the great design, study, and endeavour of our lives “ to grow in grace.” It is true, the beginning, the prosecution, and perfection of holiness is from God; but it is by the subordinate concurrence of the renewed mind and will, the leading faculties, that we are advancing towards perfection. God gives virtue to the seeds, temper to the seasons, and form to the fruits; but men are to plant and water the fruits of the earth. Without God our endeavours are weak and ineffectual, but by his blessing are successful. I will first set down directions how we should . follow holiness : secondly, answer the carnal allegations against our striving after perfection: thirdly, proceed to add other' motives to enforce the duty: fourthly, propound the means that may be effectual for this excellent end.
1. We must in our early age follow holiness. Men commonly deceive conscience, and elude their duty by delays: they are unwilling to be holy too soon, and in an excellent degree: they presume there will be time enough hereafter for to reform themselves ; after their voluptuous affections are satisfied, after their worldly acquisitions, they will forsake their sins, and become holy. But this is unaccountable folly, rather a delirium than discourse. There are innumerable contradictions, of which the lives of men are compounded; they complain as if time were intolerably short, and waste it as if it were intolerably long: they use all arts, that months may seem as hours, and years pass as days. But in no instance is this folly more visible, than in neglecting the “ working out their own salvation,” till time and grace are past, when no person can assure himself of the next minute : they presume upon such a remote possibility, that after the best of their days are spent in the vanities and business of the world, there will be time to “ do the one thing necessary.” How many are dispatched to the grave and hell in the midst of their hopes of long life, and their resolutions of future repentance ? Death often steals upon men unobserved, and sometimes unfelt. Now since time is so short and slippery, and life is dying every day, it is astonishing that so many are careless of securing future blessedness.
But suppose their time is lengthened out, how is the difficulty increased of their being renewed, and reformed in their hearts and conversations ? The natural vicious inclinations by custom in sin are confirmed habits; their passions are more violent, the power and liberty of the mind is broken, and cannot reduce them under the empire of reason. Men think there will be an ebbing and retiring of their carnal affections in age, when the sensitive faculties are disabled from the gross acts of sin; but vicious desires are not cured by impotence. The love to sin increases by the repeated pleasure of it: “can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots, then may ye that are accustomed to do evil, do well.” By custom men's lusts are more rebellious to reason, more untractable to discipline, more averse from holy counsel.
The good or the evil habits of one age, are with their virtues and vices transfused to the next. It is extraordinary when an evil child becomes a sober modest youth, or a dissolute youth becomes a religious man. Childhood is as the seed, in whose virtue the tree of life is contained. The characters that are cut in the bark, when the tree grows, deeply and visibly remain. It is as painful as death to change a sinful life of many years, and begin a contrary course of actions. There are two branches of folly visible in the world, men will not do when they can, and afterwards could not do when they would.
Besides, the Holy Spirit is grieved and quenched by their resisting his pure motions : and if he be withdrawn, it is impossible they should be renewed by a serious repentance. It is as reasonable to expect, that the sun should cross the order of nature, and rise in the west, as that the “Son of righteousness should arise with healing in his wings,” upon an habitual obstinate sinner in the hour of death. They are usually left to hardness and stupidity, to presumption or to despair. Some are as insensible; some presume to obtain an easy entrance into the kingdom of life, and their disappointment exceedingly exasperates their sad exclusion ; others who were fearless of the last enemy when afar off, in his approaches, they remember what they have been, and apprehend what they must be without a miraculous change ; and conscience, like a pulse, beats quick and faint, the prognostic of eternal death. The consideration, “ they are come to the end of their days, and shall lose the end of their desires and hopes,” eternal happiness, cuts them more terribly than the pangs of death. The reflection on their wasting the treasure of time, without any improvement for their souls, is a pricking thorn in their eyes, and forces out just but unprofitable tears. How doleful is the separation of soul and body here, and how woful will their union be at the last day?” “ O that men were wise to consider their latter end,” that they would call death to counsel ; with what evidence and efficacy would it convince them of the necessity of a timely preparation for eternity? It is too late to go to buy oil, when the bridegroom is coming.
2. Let us follow holiness zealously. Desires without consequent endeavours, are pretences; ineffectual resolutions contradict themselves. What fire, vigour, and activity, does the apostle express ? “ If by any means I may attain to the resurrection of the dead. I follow after it, that I may apprehend that for which I am apprehended of Christ. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those things that are before, I press forward to the mark, for the prize of the high calling in Christ.” I follow, as the huntsman pursues the game, with full speed. It should excite compassion and indignation, to see the love of this vain perishing world to be more active and zealous, than the love of the blessed eternal world. That the tempter with such wretched wages, the trifles of time, should induce men to be his slaves; and God with the glorious reward of an everlasting kingdom, should not persuade them to be his sons, to be like him in holiness. That men should so violently run down the hill to the earth, and be so remiss and slow in their motion upward to heaven. The vain-glorious, exeited by the edge of ambition, will venture on present death, with fond hopes of future fame. Strange purchase! The covetous,
with the most eager application of means, strive to heap up uncertain riches : the voluptuous, with vehement affections, follow pleasures. But to obtain the highest honour, celestial treasure, to enjoy the purest delights, men think lazy formality, and slack endeavours sufficient. Whereas the most serious thoughts, flagrant desires, steady resolutions, and all possible industry, are requisite in our holy calling, that we may have an abundant entrance into the kingdoin of God.
3. Let us follow holiness with alacrity and chrerfulness. Our Saviour tells us, “ it is his meat and drink to do his Father's will.” The practice of holiness is vital and nourishing, and pleasant to the taste. There is a high relish in victory of any kind, but especially over our most dangerous enemies; it replenishes with cordial contentment; what joy arises from subduing unruly passions ! Suppose anger has often foiled me, and like an unmanaged and unbridled horse, has hurried me into danger; if by divine grace, by circumspection and care, by resolution and striving, I finally overcome it, and all its former victories, what a spring of joy rushes into the soul? If the graces of the spirit are more radiant and vigorous in their exercise, the reward is such a clear serenity of mind, as is the reflection of paradise, a heaven upon earth. Prosperity in a calling makes men diligent and delightful in it. But when the practice of religion is constrained and tedious, God receives no honour, and man receives no praise, nor joy, as the reward of it.
4. Let us with unfainting perseverance strive after perfect holiness. There are tinctures of original sin cleaving to the best saints, defects in their graces and best duties: there are many degrees of ascent before we come to the highest point of perfection. Let us strive with our utmost possibility, to anticipate heaven. We must not be satisfied with some attainments, and presume we are perfect. We must be contending, till our conquest over sin be clear and complete. The reflection upon our progress will give new spirits to proceed to new work. * " To him that continues in well-doing, glory and immortality is the reward. Perseverance is the crown of christianity.
I now come to answer the allegations that are brought to discourage men from endeavours after perfect holiness. I have in
• Dixisti su slicit peristi, Aug,
the preface answered some of the principal objections. I will consider some others, to remove the most plausible pretences.
1. The first objection against the divine command, of being “ perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect," is the impossibility of obeying it. How can sinful dust and ashes be perfect, as the holy God is ? To this a clear answer may be given.
(1.) It is true, if a law be absolutely impossible, it cancels itself: for there can be no authority in a superior to command, nor obligation on a subject to obey, in a matter that is not capable of his choice. Absolute impossibility quenches desire, and causes despair; and that enervates the strength of the soul, and cuts the sinews of industry. Now we cannot suppose that God, whose wisdom, rectitude and goodness, are essential and unchangeable, should command reasonable creatures any thing utterly impossible ; for then the cause of their sin and misery would not rise from themselves, but they would be fatally lost and undone for ever.
(2.) The command signifies not a resemblance of equality, for in that sense there is “ none holy as the Lord,” but of analogy and conformity to his holy nature, of which intellectual creatures are capable.
(3.) In the present state our conformity is not entire, our graces are not pure, our virtues not refined without alloy : but this is from our culpable impotence. And it cannot be imagined, that God should reverse this law, and dissolve the obligation of it, because we have contracted a sinful disability to perform it. Besides, God is pleased to offer divine assistance to enable us to be like God in the kind of holiness, though not in the perfection of degrees. And though we cannot attain to perfection here, we may be ascending to it. The apostle exhorts christians « to strive for the comprehension of the height and depth, and length and breadth of the love of Christ that passes knowledge :" that is, we must be adding new degrees of light in our minds. We 6 cannot know as we are known," till we come to the full enlightened state above; and we “ cannot be holy as God is holy," till we come to his transforming presence in heaven, but we must be aspiring to it. We have the most excellent encouragement to this duty: for if we are zealous in our desires and endeavours, God will pardon our imperfections, and accept us as if they were